The ocean is a fundamental part of the climate system and the global response to climate change. The global ocean covers 71% of the surface of our blue planet. It has long taken the brunt of the impact of human-made global heating. It has absorbed about 90% of the heat generated by rising greenhouse gas emissions trapped in the Earth’s system and taken in about 25% of carbon emissions, causing devastating impacts and increasing risks on ocean and coastal life and coastal communities’ lives and livelihoods.
Action on the ocean and climate change is linked to Sustainable Development Goal 14 - Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. The UNSG's Special Envoy for the Ocean has issued a renewed universal call to scale up ocean action and register new voluntary commitments to support the implementation of SDG14 ahead of the UN Ocean Conference in June. Commitments can be registered and browsed via an online searchable database.
Parties to the UNFCCC have recognized the importance of protecting the ocean and its ecosystems in the Convention and Paris Agreement:
- In the Convention Parties agreed to protect the climate system (Article 2), defined as the totality of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and geosphere and their interactions (Article 1.3);
- In the Paris Agreement, Parties noted the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including oceans, and the protection of biodiversity, recognized by some cultures as Mother Earth.
However, it was not until COP 25, the Chile Madrid Time for Action 2019, governments recognized the need to strengthen the understanding of, and action on, ocean and climate change under the UNFCCC. COP25 mandated the first Ocean and climate change dialogue, drawing upon the knowledge and scientific findings from the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a changing climate.
At COP 26, in the Glasgow Climate Pact 2021, building on the outcomes of the first ocean and climate change dialogue, governments permanently anchored the inclusion of strengthened ocean-based action under the UNFCCC multilateral process. Parties:
- Noted the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including forests, the ocean and the cryosphere, and the protection of biodiversity (preamble);
- Emphasized the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring nature and ecosystems, including forests and other terrestrial and marine ecosystems, to achieve the long-term global goal of the Convention by acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and protecting biodiversity, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards (para 2);
- Recognized the importance of protecting, conserving and restoring ecosystems to deliver crucial services, including acting as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases, reducing vulnerability to climate change impacts and supporting sustainable livelihoods, including for indigenous peoples and local communities (para 50);
- Invited the relevant work programmes and constituted bodies under the UNFCCC to consider how to integrate and strengthen ocean-based action in their existing mandates and workplans and to report on these activities within the existing reporting processes, as appropriate (para 60);
- Invited the SBSTA Chair to hold an annual Ocean and climate change dialogue, and prepare an informal summary report that is made available to the COP at each subsequent session (para 61).